The gang’s all here for the Bucs

by Gary Shelton on January 27, 2024

in general

Saturday, 4 a.m.

The ghosts are coming for them now. The Tampa Bay Bucs have won the championship of the tiny little NFL South for three years in a row, and the haunting has begun. Can a moderately successful franchise stand up to its past?

There is Carolina, who is depending on Dave Canales to offset years of being a bad organization.

There is Atlanta, who looked at Bill Belichick and then said “nah, we’d rather have Raheem Morris instead.”

There is New Orleans, the grand underachievers, who may wed Jon Gruden any day now.

And there is Tampa Bay, the place where Canales, Morris and Gruden all used to live.

With Canales, the Panthers hope they finally haves guy who can help the franchise stay out of its own way. You could always count on the stupidity of the Panthers, who were going to fire a coach too quickly, who were going to draft the wrong quarterback, who were going to throw away Christian McCafferty. They have been among the league’s dumbest teams, always in a hurry to do the wrong thing at the worst time.

Now they have Canales, the guy whose offense couldn’t score a touchdown the last time his team was in town. The Bucs won 9-0 that day, but evidently, it was an impressive nine points and it impressed everyone in the joint.

Well, bully for Canales. I thought it was a year too soon, and I thought it was with the wrong franchise, but a guy has to grab the golden ring when he can, right? Canales certainly won’t make things worse for the Panthers. He’s got a fair quarterback in Bryce Young, and a better defense than the game results suggest.

Then there is Morris, who had dreadful teams (and one pretty good one) when he was with the Bucs. He went 17-31, and in his final days, it seemed as if the team had thrown in the towel.

I’m softer on Morris than some, admittedly. I thought he was a good guy who tried hard. But he got zero help from the big offices when he was here. In his one good year (10-6), he coaxed great performances from Josh Freeman, from Mike Williams and from LaGarrett Blount. But that didn’t last, either. He lost his last 10 games here, and in seven of them, his team gave up 30 points or more.

Quick: Name the best free agent the Bucs signed in those years?

I’ll give you a decade or so to think about it.

Again, I think of Morris as a bright young guy who was in over his head. The Bucs’ franchise failed him as much as he failed it. I spent a weekend following Morris around New Jersey when the town had a day for him. It was impressive to hear what his old friends and family thought. I’d like to see him be a success.

Morris has earned his second chance with his work in Atlanta and Los Angeles.  Now we’ll see what happens.

Then there is Gruden, who must want to beat the Bucs so bad that they put his name back in the Ring of Honor. You know, before he dishonored himself via e-mail.

When Gruden was the head coach, we clashed a lot. One season, when he 0-4, I wrote that the union between him and hand-picked general manager Bruce Allen just wasn’t working.

That day, the Bucs won. As always, winning cures everything in the eyes of the coaches. Sure enough, in the locker room that day, I felt a hand slap me on the back. It was one of Gruden’s minions. “I read what you wrote today,” he sneered. “Thanks,” I said. The man’s face twisted up and he said, louder, “it was lies. It was all lies. Lies.”

For once, I held my temper. All I answered was “I thought I got the part about 0-4 right,” I said.

That said, I always thought Gruden knew the difference between an X and an O. He was good right now coach, but he wasn’t a grower or a builder. He got the Bucs’ their first Super Bowl, but he never won another playoff game.

After that, Gruden never seemed happy with his quarterback. He was a reaper, not a grower.

Still, I have respect for his game knowledge. The Saints generally draft well. I think he’ll succeed.

Meanwhile, there are the Bucs, trying to find another guru for Baker Mayfield, who has been through a few. They face an off-season of decisions, of who to keep and who let walk, of who to draft and who sign.

And among the issues are these: The Bucs have to beat back a few familiar faces. Heck, any day now, they’re going to arrest Ray Perkins for throwing rocks at One Buc Place. Lovie Smith and Leeman Bennett might  have a few nasty things to say. Greg Schiano will organize a protest as soon as he can convince the protestors to get their toes on the line.

It’s old home year in the NFC South.

Welcome back, guys.

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